With poor oversight, China’s industrial parks no match for illegal wastewater dumping

Press release - 2019-05-21
Beijing, 21 May 2019 - With rampant illegal dumping, 18 out of 20 state-investigated Chinese provinces suffer from a severe lack of oversight in the industrial parks that were set up to tighten up wastewater management, which undercuts nationwide efforts to control pollution and runoff, problems that are exacerbated by an insufficient criteria framework and poor infrastructure.

Deng Tingting, a Beijing-based toxics campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia, said:

"It’s like the wild west right now. Factories dump wastewater into rivers, canals, sewers, seepage pits, wherever. Local governments willfully ignore these crimes in some cases. Dozensof brand new wastewater treatment plants go utterly unused while toxic sludge flows into the river. National pushes to build wastewater treatment plants are pointless if local government provide no oversight.”

After decades of breakneck industrial development, China suffers widespread pollution to surface water and public health problems. The central government has directed provincial governments to merge factories into industrial parks. But an utter absence of oversight leads to illegal dumping and a frequent reliance on city sewage systems, which in turn break down.

A lack of clear criteria for wastewater treatment plants -- most just rely on city or country standards, which don’t include harsh industrial contaminants -- and a lack of infrastructure are also issues. Beijing has estimated that China needs to install 400,000 km of wastewater piping, which would cost around one trillion RMB ($145 billion USD).

Deng said:

"Brand new wastewater treatment plants sit unused while waste pumps into streams and rivers. The current state of affairs is a mess, and it keeps companies from entering the growing market for wastewater treatment. The decision not to shephard this growing industry is a risky one. ”

Chemical manufacturing, textiles, coal, and industrial agriculture together account for about 50% of China's industrial wastewater. Local governments rely heavily on these industries, and local regulators often turn a blind eye to illegal practices, which is a public health and environmental hazard. This is enabled by the muddled administrative flow of the system.

Without clear-cut guidelines, the system now runs with virtually no communication between stakeholders. Even municipal governments who approve the discharge to treatment plants do not communicate that information with local environmental regulators, who actually monitor contaminant levels. Frequently, wastewater treatment plants are fined for above-regulation output after unknowingly accepting wastewater far too toxic for their treatment capacity.

This will continue until provincial governments demarcate responsibility between local environmental regulators, the industries, the industrial parks, and wastewater treatment plants and define operable standards for the treatment plants. The central government can, through tax incentives and public-private partnerships grow the industry to meet China’s needs.

Notes to Editors:

[1] Full report here (in Chinese).

Media Contacts:

August Rick | Greenpeace East Asia, Beijing | +86 13051885404|

Greenpeace International Press Desk, , phone: +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)